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What I’m Reading: Noah’s Garden Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Back Yards

Review of Noah's Garden

Review of Noah's Garden

Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards by Sara Stein

Houghton Mifflin, 1993

Paperback Pages: 294

Disclaimer: I was not paid for this review, I obtained the book to read as a library rental


When I moved onto my current property it had about 2.5 acres of unmowed lawn which had turned into a weedy field or tangled mess of locust and ornamental pear trees. The rest was immaculate lawn and overgrown landscaping shrubs.

I tried to landscape and maintain it to the cultural standard. We mowed the field, sprayed the ‘weeds’ and pruned the shrubs. So, when I read this book, I mentally kicked myself. At the same time, felt what the author was feeling.

Sara Stein (1935-2005), formerly of Vinalahven, Maine wrote this book while gardening on 6 acres in Pound Ridge, NY. She is known for beginning a native gardening movement in the 1990s which continues today.  She purchased the property and began to bring it up to society’s standard of landscaping. While trying to learn more about the land she did what she thought was right – and then noticed that the wildlife had left!

Throughout the United States wildlife habitat is lost yearly to urban sprawl. The obsession with the American lawn has damaged rural ecology and biodiversity. By virtue of its constitution, the American yard has a low carrying capacity for wildlife (feeds few animals) due to the limited plants used. Because home owners choose plants that are exotics, have sterile flowers, invasive or “improved” with less food sources available to wildlife causing local extinction of species.

Once Sara realized that her landscaping was the cause of her missing wildlife she set out to fix the damage she had done. Using the term ‘ungardening’ she tells the story of how she transformed her sterile landscaped lawn and common shrubs to a more natural ecosystem of swamp, tallgrass prairie, rock and pond.

Through her use of humor and anecdotes she tells here story of becoming and then not becoming a gardener.  This story convinces the reader to follow her example and shows that the loss of nature is everyone’s problem, and not up to just a few to fix.

For myself, this narrative made me think about my use of ornamentals in my own backyard and reinforced the idea that my backyard is a mini ecosystem which is as part of a whole network of backyards.

Recommendation – Non-technical, fun read that will change the way you look at the landscaped property. Highly Recommended.

Amazon link: Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards

Paige Nugent

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